Think of Games and Companies as Engagement Engines

Think of Games and Companies as Engagement Engines

By Michael Hugos

Using games and game mechanics might be as powerful a model for organizing knowledge and creative work as the assembly line was for organizing industrial and repetitive work.

Because we have been taught that play is the opposite of work and that a game is the opposite of a job we believe that play and games are frivolous and that motivates many of us to instinctively reject the idea that games or play can be part of that serious activity we call work. But maybe we should think again.

We all have a sense of what a game is. Regardless of whether we are talking about sports games or card games or board games or video games, we can see they all share a core set of traits in common. Games are skills based, results oriented and structured by rules. Games have four defining traits and they are:

  • Goals
  • Rules
  • Feedback Systems
  • Enthusiastic Participation.

The goals of a game are what the game is about; they are what attract people to the game. Rules define how players go about achieving the goals; they define the challenges of the game and they guide people’s behavior. Feedback systems present a continuous flow of information that shows people how they are doing and whether their actions are taking them closer to or farther away from accomplishing the goals. And the right combination of these first three traits is what induces the fourth trait – enthusiastic participation.

You can call a game an engagement engine because it attracts and engages players. You can measure the success of a game by the number of players it attracts and the level of engagement it gets from its players. Maybe the best definition of a business these days is to say that it too is an engagement engine – it attracts and engages customers, employees and partners.

Perhaps a company in our real-time global economy should no longer be organized like an assembly line focused on efficiency. That was the industrial model from the last century. Maybe the successful business model for this century is to operate instead in a more game-like manner. Maybe we need to start thinking of a company as a feedback system guided by goals and rules focused on generating enthusiastic participation as measured by repeat customers and dedicated employees. This is illustrated in the figure below.

Engagment Engines

The driving force for success in the our economy now is continuous response to change so as to maintain the enthusiastic participation of customers and employees. Product life cycles are often measured in months, and companies need to stay close to their customers in order to remain aligned with rapidly changing customer needs and desires. Businesses that fail to do this go the way of once great companies whose names used to be household words, but who have since faded away. Those companies grew up in the industrial age of the last century. They did what they did they did very efficiently, but as time went on they efficiently made products and services that failed to keep up with changing customer needs and desires. So people stopped buying what they made.

The goals, rules and feedback systems of those once great companies failed to interest and engage people over time. They lost their connection with customers and employees and partners. Their senior managers attempted to address their problems by applying traditional industrial measures to increase efficiency, things such as cutting headcount, selling off business units and squeezing suppliers. But those actions mostly just alienated more people and accelerated the loss of the enthusiastic participation they so urgently needed. Without participation and feedback from their customers and stakeholders they lost their way.

Maybe there is a big opportunity right now to look at companies in a new way and apply game mechanics to business operations so as to increase enthusiastic participation of customers and stakeholders. This could be the new model for organizing and operating companies in the high change and unpredictable real-time economy of this century.

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